Image: Volunteers gather clothes to be sent as humanitarian aid
Elena Palm  /  AFP - Getty Images
Volunteers gather clothes to be sent to refugees from the South Ossetia conflict in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Tuesday.
updated 8/12/2008 8:52:40 PM ET 2008-08-13T00:52:40

Relief agencies rushed aid Tuesday to thousands of refugees fleeing the violence in South Ossetia for neighboring Russia or other parts of Georgia, while those left behind cowered in rat-infested cellars or wandered nearly empty cities and villages.

The first relief flight from the U.N. refugee agency arrived in Georgia on Tuesday morning as the estimated number of people uprooted by the Russian-Georgian fighting that began last week approached 100,000, said Ron Redmond, chief spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The U.N.'s World Food Program said it had already distributed 10-day food rations to about 2,000 displaced people living in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Other relief supplies have been coming to the country from Germany, France and other international donors.

People pitched in to help the wounded as grieving relatives gathered around Tbilisi's Gudushauri Medical Center and women cried. An injured man with a bandaged arm arrived by ambulance and a couple of elderly men came in cars. Others jostled around a list of names posted outside the medical center.

Many refugees arriving in the capital were staying with family, in schools or had moved into holiday cottages along the Black Sea.

Hiding in cellars
Conditions were especially bad for those who remained behind in Tskhinvali, capital of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia, where some people were still hiding in cellars Tuesday or walking among the damaged buildings and homes of the city.

One crying woman said she had not saved a single photo. A man said he had lost everything and did not even have candles. He told AP Television News the cellar was rat-infested and wet.

When Russian forces poured into a Georgian-held part of Kodori Gorge, in the other breakaway province Abkhazia, fleeing Georgians said the entire population of the gorge, some 3,000 people, had abandoned their homes. Some left so quickly they did not even grab food or water.

The Georgian city of Gori near South Ossetia was almost deserted Tuesday after most remaining residents and Georgian soldiers fled, fearing Russian attacks.

A team from the U.N. refugee agency that went to Gori on Sunday was told by local government officials that up to 80 percent of the population had left in fear of further attacks, Redmond said.

In Russia's Vladikavkaz — the capital of North Ossetia across the border — municipal officer Vitaly Atayev told AP Television News that he had just received 150 coffins to send to South Ossetia by truck.

"This is the kind of assistance we are receiving now," he said.

Aid on the way
At Alagir, 20 miles south of Vladikavkaz, a woman stood in front of the icons at the St. Barbara Church, while refugees nearby awaited food being unloaded from a truck.

A UNHCR-chartered cargo plane landed at Tbilisi airport at midday, carrying 37 tons of tents, jerry cans, blankets and kitchen sets from the United Arab Emirates. A second UNHCR flight is scheduled to arrive from Denmark on Wednesday, Redmond said.

The two planes are bringing enough supplies to care for 30,000 people, he said.

France delivered a first planeload of aid to Georgia on Tuesday and said it would send more.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon's office said the first plane evacuated 261 French and European nationals, bringing them back to an emotional welcome at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.

One woman holding a Georgian flag was crying in the terminal with her family and thanked the French government for bringing her home.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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